As Shelley Farmer, BC’14, director of Candide says in her playbook note, the show is “a nightmare to stage.” With wars, castles, and locales from Uruguay to Portugal to Turkey, it is basically impossible for a college–or professional theater–to reasonably stage it. But that didn’t disuade the CMTS team from putting it on. The operetta itself is full of absurdism and very modern irony, so Farmer used that to come up with a clever solution. Candide is presented as a play within a play. Costumes changes happen as actors sing and the prop box stays playfully onstage like a magician’s box–you never know what’s going to pop out next.
While it addresses dark themes and plots such as classism, the Inquisition, slavery, “ravaging,” and death, it glosses them with ironic positivity, insisting that everything that happens is the best of all possible outcomes in this “Best of All Possible Worlds.” The deaths, especially, are delightfully presented with dying characters shouting comic “BLARGH”s and coming back to life as if nothing happened. Showing Candide as a clearly staged production makes this much more acceptable and humorous.
This production is a ball of laughs and entirely enjoyable, thanks in no small part to a wonderful cast of singers who clearly understood the playful satire of the musical. As the operetta’s narrator, governor of Montevideo, and Dr. Pangloss, who teaches the ideal that the world is the best, Grant Gutierrez, CC’15, is consistently enthusiastic and commanding. When he speaks, you want to listen. He has perfect comedic timing and fantastic presence. A role like this is tiring–onstage for a majority of 2 hours–but Gutierrez never shows it, saving a strong voice for a powerful “Bon Voyage” near the end.
The entire cast of this Candide committed to full-body, physical performances. There are slapstick gags, dances, and general running around. For the most part, the actors did not appear to be weary and created dozens of funny moments. Notable in physical commitment was Lisa Campbell, BC’13, as the salacious Paquette. Wiggling her hips and pouting seductively at every man she encounters, she’s reliable for a good laugh. In the second half Piper Rasmussen, BC’16, did a more absurd version of the same as the Old Lady, becoming more outlandish and hysterical with every line. The ensemble was also a joy, rolling their eyes at over-the-top dramatics and acting silly in the background. Special shout out goes to Jesse Wayne, BC’14, as a comically demented agent of the Inquisition.
The most well-known aria of the show is “Glitter and Be Gay,” a difficult coloratura piece for any soprano. Christine Rosenblatt, BC’16, had the challenge to sing it in her role as Cunegonde. Impressive and on point throughout Candide, this song understandably threw her off as she ran up and down the audience risers and tired herself out. She had a fine upper register at the start of the song and, to her credit, didn’t vulgarly shout the final high notes. This one song was easily forgiven by Rosenblatt’s solid performance for the rest of the show.
Especially given the limitations of a college-age cast, the performances were impressive. As the title role Zachary Small, CC’15, was delightfully naive and sweet. He played the role with equal parts awkwardness and endearment–like a less annoying and peppier Michael Cera. Also notable was Isaac Assor, CC’14, as the narcissistic Maximilian. With an affected accent which falls apart as his character becomes more and more downtrodden and tossed about, he had a big voice and a ton of humor.
The room itself, Lerner Black Box, was perfectly suited to the concept of this Candide. Brett Berger, SEAS’15, did a great job with lighting, its effectiveness becoming more useful as the show went on. Lone spotlights and colorful filters added to the scenes and made a good atmosphere. But the room does have limitations of its own–namely, no orchestra pit; at times the musicians and singers were not perfectly aligned. Nonetheless, it was a group of accomplished musicians, especially in strings.
Overall Candide was an utter delight. Full of nonstop laughs and smiling positivity, audience members couldn’t not enjoy it. Despite being a “nightmare” to stage and perform, the cast and crew pulled out all the stops to make this the best of all possible college Candides.